[This was recorded on Friday, August 7, for streaming on Sunday, August 9, for the John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Henrietta NY. So, if you are really disciplined, you might wait till Sunday or Monday to listen to it. But if not…. The text is Romans 10:5-15, along with Isaiah 52:7.]
Do you know how many bones are in the human body? Do you know where 1/4 of those bones are clustered? In the adult body, there are about 206 bones. About a quarter of those bones are in our feet. The human foot is an amazing creation. Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. I am a jogger, so I appreciate how my feet work and keep working. I give the 52 bones, 66 joints, and over 200 muscles, tendons, and ligaments in my two feet hard workouts, including one this morning—and they keep performing.
And so, I am struck by this phrase that occurs in both of our readings this morning: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Do you think of feet as beautiful? Do you think of your feet as beautiful? I don’t mean to get too personal, but feet are beautiful in what they can do. The next time you are trimming your nails, note the intricacies of the human foot.
And that has me thinking about some of the ways we refer to our feet. “Put your best foot forward.” Do you have a favorite foot, a best foot? “You really put your foot in your mouth.” How do you do that? I should know; I have done it enough. “Footloose and fancy free.” “I’ll foot the bill.” Is that something a football player does? In our climate zone, we wear socks and shoes most of the year. One of the delights of summer is not wearing shoes. I love being bare-footed. I really love walking bare-footed on a sandy beach. If you not already bare-footed now, please take off whatever is on your feet.
“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” I guess that means that preachers of the good news have especially beautiful feet. I have beautiful feet! But not more than anyone that brings good news to another. Not more beautiful than your feet, as you bring good news to others.
I have been following the lectionary readings in Romans this summer, preaching from several of them. Some background will help us understand how this passage fits in Romans. Romans is the most theologically rich of all Paul’s letters and has shaped Christian thought over these 20 centuries. This letter was written in about 57 AD. Paul didn’t start the church in Rome and had not visited it yet, but he knew people in it and he longed to go there. He knew it was in the center of the Roman Empire, the most powerful empire of that time.
Two issues loomed before those believers in Rome, one political and one racial. The political issue was that the emperor was Nero, who was ruthless. He demanded absolute loyalty and dealt harshly with anyone that withheld it from him. Before his reign ended, he would unleash brutal assaults on his perceived enemies. Because those Christians honored Jesus as Lord, they could not and would not call Nero lord. The Latin word caesar comes directly from the New Testament word for lord. Nero would eventually display his wrath on Christians for not calling him lord.
We are in a presidential election year. Though our political situation is nothing like theirs, still we are reminded that no political leader may claim our absolute allegiance: not Trump or Biden, not Lincoln or Washington, not Reagan or Obama. I have my favorites, but I am under no illusions: they are all flawed persons. Jesus alone deserves my absolute allegiance and full loyalty. Jesus alone is Lord over all creation. No political leader can demand the total allegiance and loyalty of a follower of Jesus, for Jesus alone is Lord.
The second challenge dealt with the long-standing enmity between Jews and Gentiles. That certainly rivaled the Black-White racial challenges we face today. Racial injustice is not unique to our country; it exists everywhere. And it certainly exists in the United States. We do well to take it seriously. Much of my summer book reading has been about the American racial history and current expressions of it. As former congressman John Lewis’s faith in Jesus compelled him to march, protest, and call for civil rights and voting rights for Black Americans, my faith in Jesus compels me to care about people that have been enslaved and people that continue to be dealt with unjustly.
The Jew-Gentile situation in that time was comparable. The first followers of Jesus were mainly Jewish; the second wave were largely Gentile. Most of the early leaders were Jews. While glad that Gentiles were responding to the good news, they were a bit threatened as well. What if the Gentiles take over the church? I trust that you can see how contemporary this letter is. The struggle was real. Paul himself was a Jew of impeccable credentials, then God sent him to share the good news of Jesus with Gentiles.
If the young church didn’t meet the Jew-Gentile challenge, it would have splintered and become so far removed from God’s design, that it may have died in one generation. Instead, they worked it through, empowered by God’s word and Spirit. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” Saying there is no distinction doesn’t mean they weren’t aware of racial differences. It means there is ultimately no distinction—we are all created in God’s image and moved by our creator. Our common humanity is greater than our racial differences.
In Galatians, Paul writes: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Clearly, male and female still exist, as much as Jew and Gentile, and Black and White. But now in the light of Christ, the differences aren’t allowed to divide us. I am White, from European heritage. I now have three grandchildren. Two are half-Asian and one is African-American. I am White and my wonderful grandchildren are people of color. And we are family. I am thrilled to be part of a family with diversity and several shades of pigmentation. That is how the church was meant to be and always should be. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” Everyone, without distinction, may call on the Lord. Everyone, without distinction, is welcome here. In Christ we have a unity that transcends all human differences of gender, color, class, or national origin. It doesn’t obliterate our color and racial distinctions, our gender distinctions, but it makes them the occasion for glorious diversity, not division. In Christ, we all belong in one body. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Are there any fans of Mr. Rogers listening? I thought so. I love Mr. Rogers and my love for him grows as, now dead, he continues to remind us of God’s love in our neighborhoods. Do you remember what happened in episode #195? It first aired on May 9, 1969, but clips of one section of it continue to be shown. Officer Clemmons, a Black police officer, came on the set to visit Mr. Rogers. He had just finished his shift, which meant his feet were tired. Mr. Rogers had a little wading pool with water in it, the kind we use for toddlers to cool off on hot days. Mr. Rogers said that his feet were tired, so he was going to soak them in the pool. He asked Officer Clemmons if he wanted to soak his feet too. With socks and shoes off, and pant legs rolled up, a Black man and a White man put their feet in the same water as they sat side by side and talked. In many parts of our country it was still the custom that Whites and Blacks not be in the same water, sometimes enforced by law. And there on national TV, Mr. Rogers showed children and watching parents a better way. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
The words “foot” and “feet” occur almost 400 times in the Bible. These feet of ours are important to God. One passage with many references to feet especially moves me, found in Luke 7.
“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. [The Pharisee took offense at this.] Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.’”
How beautiful are the feet of Jesus. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”